Steve Chapman on Jeb Bush’s Bromides

In fact, it would be unfair to suggest that he got all his ideas about the world from his brother and father. It would be equally off-base to suggest that he has any of his own. What he, like most of the other Republicans who may run for president, has are muscular-sounding bromides that substitute for understanding.

This is from Steve Chapman, “Jeb Bush’s Empty Indictment,” February 23, 2015. The piece is excellent.

Responding to Jeb Bush’s claim that “We definitely no longer inspire fear in our enemies,” Chapman writes:

We no longer scare our enemies? The United States is a superpower that has been at war for 13 years, has brought about regime change in multiple countries, and is currently leading an air campaign against the Islamic State while conducting drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. If those facts give our enemies no anxiety, our enemies are exceedingly dim.

They’re Baaack: Neocons Launch Push for Regime Change

In most Hollywood horror franchises we know that the villains – take your Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or your rakish Freddy Krueger – always come back. No matter what painful death or injury felled them in the previous romp, an endless string of potential victims means room for one more film. Make that 17 more.

The neoconservative war doctrine of aggressive military force and self-serving regime change did not die after the failed wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, which proponents pushed with an enthusiasm not equaled since the world tilted on its axis and Freddy met Jason in an epic hack-off.  No, the neocons went nearly dormant (there is a Bram Stoker trope here, somewhere), reduced really, to sniping at Obama, but more or less biding their time until the next opportunity to manipulate global affairs in the Middle East.

That time, it seems, has come. We’re seeing subtle signs already this week as President Obama takes the country one step closer to air strikes against Bashar Assad’s military assets. We know one thing: neither the administration or military seem particularly interested in pursuing regime change or nation building (their “punitive strike” strategy of course is a topic for another post). However, with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham as neocon spear points — push, push, pushing for military force, now! —  neoconservative voices, old and new, are starting to hint that “to do it right,” we might be in Syria for a long time afterwards, helping the “new” government find its way.

Take for instance, Elizabeth O’Bagy.

365px-Frederick_and_Kimberly_Kagan_in_Basra
Fred and Kim Kagan consulting the military in Basra in 2008

Never heard of her? She is clearly a protégé of the Kagan Clan, representing Kimberly Kagan’s Institute for the Study of War. Kim Kagan, who is married to Fred Kagan (brother of Robert Kagan), is no doubt happy to put someone besides a Kagan to front her think tank, which frankly, is now aligned with the demise of Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, who turned to her and Fred as “consultants” in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the last several years, she’s written “The Surge: A Military History,” and numerous magazine articles and op-eds as panegyrics to General Petraeus and “his generals” and their now-discredited COIN pop-doctrine.

So sending out the signal for another regime change must be done carefully and with none of the old baggage.  O’Bagy has a Ph.D but this appears to be her first job. She says she has traveled extensively with the rebel groups in Syria to essentially prove that there are moderates out there who the U.S can work with.  But her recent appearances on FOX and other venues come across as bullet-point briefings with very little color. The bottom line for O’Bagy: the rebel groups can be parsed. We need not worry about the “extremists,” she insists, they are are outnumbered by the “more moderate groups” who will welcome American assistance (echoes of the Iraqi National Congress?).

Elizabeth O'Bagy
Elizabeth O’Bagy

And then for the capstone — “there needs to be more than just punitive measures” she charged on FOX Monday night. “These moderate forces .. could quickly be taken over by the ideology of these extremist groups,” if we don’t do more than just strike, she added. O’Bagy doesn’t say “regime change” is necessary, but she certainly suggests it.

This is fascinating because this is the second time, at least, that O’Bagy has been given over 5 minutes of coveted Special Report time on FOX to describe events in Syria, even though there is a city filled with more experienced foreign policy and military analysts and journalists outside [Note: Special Report gets about 1.9 million viewers each night]. She’s spreading the word at different think tank discussions in Washington, too, like here and here.

While O’Bagy appears to be a gentle enough scout for what will no doubt turn into a full-blown message-control and lobbying campaign, there are more strident neoconservative foot soldiers in the ranks. Like Charles Krauthammer, who all but dared Obama to take out Assad on Special Report tonight. Like former George W speechwriter Michael Gerson, who in Tuesday’s Washington Post laid it all on the line:

The best-case scenario is probably this: a negotiated outcome in which Assad departs and other regime elements agree to form an interim government with the non-extremist members of the opposition. The new government would then need to engage in a multi-year power struggle (aided by the United States) with the jihadists. But this approach would require convincing the regime it can’t win militarily. Which would probably only happen after a Kosovo-style, Western air campaign.

Wow. If I close my eyes and listen to this read out loud and replace “Assad” with “Saddam,” I can almost make out the contours of our failed war in Iraq. If I close my eyes long enough I may see Freddy Krueger, which to tell you the truth is a less scary prospect. Sorry Freddy, maybe it’s time to find another day job after all.

 

UPDATE: We cannot forget the notoriously neoconservative Washington Post editorial page, which on Tuesday warned that seeing “moderate forces prevail … can’t be achieved with one or two volleys of cruise missiles.” Here’s more:

The United States can’t dictate the outcome in Syria, and it would be foolish to send ground troops in an effort to do so. But by combining military measures with training, weapons supplies and diplomacy, it could exercise considerable influence. The military measures could include destroying forces involved in chemical weapons use and elements of the Syrian air force that have been used to target civilians, as well as helping to carve out a safe zone for rebels and the civilian populations they are seeking to protect.

Such military action should be seen as one component of a policy that finally recognizes a U.S. interest in helping to shape Syria’s future.

UPDATE II : The old gang, back together: The Weekly Standard publishes fatuous letter to the president offering assistance with Syria. Supposedly it includes signatories from “all over the ideological spectrum,” but that is a joke. Not when you are talking Bill Kristol, Elliot Abrams, Cliff May, Joe Lieberman, Robert Kagan, Martin Peretz, Karl Rove, Dan Senor …. you get the point. And not a true realist or anti-interventionist in sight. Not surprising, though, when you see the bottom line :

It is therefore time for the United States to take meaningful and decisive actions to stem the Assad regime’s relentless aggression, and help shape and influence the foundations for the post-Assad Syria that you have said is inevitable.

Where Does the MilitaryIndustrial Complex come from? Egypt?

“A military-industrial complex (MIC) is composed of a nation’s armed forces, its suppliers of weapons systems, supplies and services, and its civil government.” — Wikipedia

The U.S. MIC has evolved – – –

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Egypt — the [Egyptian] military does get this $1.3 billion of [U.S.] aid, but it has to be spent purchasing U.S. weapons. And so, all of this money really gets funneled to U.S. defense contractors that are the real big beneficiary of these funds, that have very large lobbying firms in Washington and that lobby very strongly for this aid to keep going. … The Washington Post had a very interesting article today showing that since the 1980s the United States has granted Egypt an extraordinary ability to make these orders with these American defense contractors that are worth far more than the funds Congress has already appropriated. So it’s essentially like this massive credit card that Egypt has, with a limit of billions of dollars. And it’s something called “cash flow financing.” So Egypt can submit these large orders for equipment that will take years to produce and deliver, and it’s under the assumption that U.S. lawmakers will just continue funneling the aid. Egypt Tensions Escalate as Morsi Detained and Supporters of Army, Brotherhood Hold Rival Protests | Democracy Now!

The original insight – – –

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Public Papers of the Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960, p. 1035-1040

In an early draft, Mr. Eisenhower more accurately called it “the militaryindustrialcongressional complex.”

The easiest campaign promise??

Both War Party candidates (Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama) have stumbled all over themselves — and each other — to promise the government of Israel  they won’t let Iran produce a nuclear bomb.

Unless they begin to believe their own propaganda as Kennedy did (which inadvertently fired-up the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union), it’s the one campaign promise they’ll both be able to easily keep at almost no cost.

Here’s why:

U.S. Defense Sec. Leon Panetta: “Are they [Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” –Panetta Admits Iran is Not Trying to Develop a Nuclear Weapon, CBS’s “Face The Nation” Jan. 8, 2012

The Buried Lead on Iran: All Nuclear Sites Routinely Inspected, No Violations Antiwar.com

'What intelligent person would fight 5,000 American bombs with one bomb?' Iranian President Ahmadinejad

Iran to Allow Nuclear Inspectors Into Secret Military Complex
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Iran has announced it will allow international nuclear inspectors to visit its secret Parchin military complex. Iran has long said its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only, but some international analysts have speculated Iran may be using the Parchin complex to do research relevant to nuclear weapons. It is not clear when inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will visit the site. –Democracy NOW! HEADLINES, March 06, 2012

SEYMOUR HERSH: …let me say again, there is no evidence that our intelligence community or even the Israeli intelligence community has — and I know that firsthand — suggesting that there’s an ongoing bomb program. So we are now — the United States is now in the position of increasing sanctions and pressuring all sorts of economic pressure on the Iranians to stop — the whole purpose of the economic sanctions is to stop the Iranians from making a bomb that we know they’re not making. –Training Terrorists in Nevada: Seymour Hersh on U.S. Aid to Iranian Group Tied to Scientist Killings

So everyone, including U.S. and Israeli intelligence, knows that the Iranian government isn’t trying to make a bomb. Unless a seriously careless Iranian scientist slips on a banana peel and pushes the wrong 10,000 buttons in exactly the right sequence, there’s little chance Iran — which, unlike Israel with its estimated 100 secret nukes, has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty  — will build even one bomb.

How hard can it be to stop someone from doing something they’re not doing? So, is the War Party candidates’ mutual promise to the government of Israel to prevent Iran from producing  a nuclear bomb the easiest campaign promise?

Or, as with Kennedy and the nuclear arms race, Iraq, and now Iran, is THIS the main danger – – –

Little girl's sign: They lied about Iraq

For further information: Common Sense: IRAN: A Medley Against the MIC (MilitaryIndustrialComplex)

Romney Roils Middle East Waters With Diversions from U.S. Policy and Insults to Palestinians

Mitt Romney’s 36-hour stop in Israel lasted long enough for him to add a new set of gaffes and missteps to his itinerary for this foreign trip designed to showcase his foreign policy chops. Yesterday, I outlined a series of misadventures for the Mitt which included a Dan Senor-initiated embrace of a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran, which he soft-pedaled in a subsequent “clarification” to CBS. Romney also called Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a nuance that diverges from decades of U.S. policy, which does not recognize the disputed city as either Israel’s or Palestine’s capital (until a peace agreement when, presumably, it would become the recognized capital of two countries).

The Washington Post noted several sour notes in Romney’s public remarks which inflamed tensions with the Palestinians and showed Romney’s general ignorance of how the Occupation impacts both Israel and Palestine:

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney said.

The Post notes here that Romney completely botched these statisitics and that the Israeli GDP is actually $32,000, while Palestinian GDP is $3,000. While no one would make the mistake of calling Romney an economist, one would think as a corporate executive he would understand what innate differences between a proto-nation under modified siege and one fully independent would mean. Israel has observed economic policies that have long rendered Palestine dependent on it in numerous ways. Among them, is the lack of a deep water port in Gaza or airport which Israel has deliberately nixed. As the Times wrote:

Mr. Romney did not speak to the deleterious impact of deep Israeli trade restrictions on the Palestinian economy, an effect widely described by international organizations including the World Bank, which recently reported that “the government of Israel’s security restrictions continue to stymie investment.”

No matter how many profiles the NY Times runs on the Palestinian “economic miracle,” such as the one penned by Isabel Kershner yesterday, Israeli occupation stifles many aspects of Palestinian life, including this. Any economist worth his salt would concede that after a peace agreement that offers Palestine its full independence, its economy will grow by leaps and bounds.

The presidential candidate appeared to endorse the racist anti-Arab views of his chief donor, Sheldon Adelson, in claiming an innate cultural difference between Jews and Arabs that allows Israel to outshine its neighbors:

“[I]f you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

“Culture” of course, has nothing to do with the fact that Israel is more economically developed than Palestine. Those differences are entirely political and economic in nature. Thankfully, John McCain noted that as well in subtly criticizing Romney’s remarks:

It’s government, “not cultures” that define the difference between Israelis and Palestinians. That’s according to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who appeared to differ with presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney as he tried to defend him.

“I am sure that Gov. Romney was not talking about difference in cultures, or difference in anybody superior or inferior,” said McCain. “What I’m sure Gov. Romney was talking was that the Israeli economy has grown and prospered in a dramatic fashion. And unfortunately, the Palestinians have not had that same economic development.

Of course Romney intended his comments to reflect a cultural superiority of Israel over the Arabs, including the Palestinians. I just hope that McCain’s shot across the candidate’s bow will restrain any further racist notions from entering into his Israel-related pronouncements. To the Arizona senator’s credit, he’s more sensitive to the appearance of a Republican presidential candidate appearing to insult all of the Arab and Muslim Middle East. But of course with Adelson donating $100-million or more to the campaign, money outranks truth and reality every time.

The Post even notes that Israelis themselves disagree with Romney, which indicates the Republican’s weak grasp of the issues:

The assessment is one not widely shared within Israel, and suggested a lack of sustained study or nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

The White House too noted Romney’s insensitivity and divergence from accepted government policy:

“One of the challenges of being an actor on the international stage, particularly when you’re traveling to such a sensitive part of the world, is that your comments are very closely scrutinized for meaning, for nuance, for motivation,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said about the Monday remarks.

The comments have left some people “scratching their heads a little bit,” Earnest told reporters at the daily White House briefing…

Earnest said Romney’s position on Jerusalem, the eastern half of which Palestinians claim as the capital of a promised future state, runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy.

“It’s the view of this administration that the capital is something that should be determined in final status negotiations between the parties,” Earnest said. “If Mr. Romney disagrees with that position, he’s also disagreeing with the position that was taken by presidents like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.”

What this points out is that a Romney presidency would mark a sharp departure from decades of U.S. policy, because it would be largely inspired by ultra-nationalist donors like Adelson who don’t even believe a Palestinian people exist, let alone that Jerusalem should be shared with it. It’s important for Americans to note the likely radical changes to be expected with an Adelson takeover of Israel policy in the next administration.

The Palestinian reaction to these misguided remarks was swift and sharp:

Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said: “It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.”

AP noted how incendiary such attitudes can be both in a presidential campaign and in a region that is a tinder-box of ethnic tension:

…His decision to highlight cultural differences in a region where such differences have helped fuel violence for generations raises new questions about the former businessman’s diplomacy skills.”

The Romney campaign is exasperated with the coverage saying their candidate said nothing in his remarks he hasn’t said before. They even called the story “manufactured.” But the truth is that what upsets them is that only now has the press focussed on his racist attitudes. Before he had only expressed them in a book nobody read. Here he’s said them before some of the wealthiest Jews in the world while being covered by scores of international journalists. Not to mention the setting of the disputed city of Jerusalem. I think this is a case of a presidential campaign coasting and expecting what they’ve always done would get them through this particular set of events. What they didn’t realize is that they placed themselves under a microscope by taking this foreign policy junket to burnish Romney’s credentials. Of course you’re going to face extra scrutiny and what worked in the past might not work here.

Romney also made another embarrassing off-message gaffe in praising Israel’s nationalized health insurance plan (Kupat Holim) which provides low-cost, taxpayer subsidized health coverage to all citizens:

Romney noted that Israel spends just 8 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, while the United States spends 18 percent. “We have to find ways,” he said, “not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to [fund] and manage our health care costs.”

The answer, of course, to Mitt’s claim is for the U.S. to adopt a comparable system, which would dramatically lower the cost of health care to the same percentage of GDP as Israel’s (or less).

Jodi Rudoren in the NY Times typically downplayed or misapprehended the level of Romney’s gaffe-prone performance, not picking up on the general media criticism of the candidate, even by a reporter for the pro-Likud/pro-Romney Yisrael HaYom:

The visit to Jerusalem, in the middle of a seven-day overseas tour that began in London and continues on Monday in Poland…went smoother than the London stop…

Even her own colleagues appear to disagree, as this story, Romney Trip Raises Sparks at a 2nd Stop, points out.

I’m guessing that Rudoren’s inattentiveness to Hebrew language press coverage may have something to do with her lack of knowledge of Hebrew (though there are critical reports published in English language Israeli media). This caused her to miss some of the major elements of this story.

VERIFIED: Where Wars Do — and Don’t Come From

Where wars DO come from:

It is not civilizations that promote clashes. They occur when old-fashioned leaders look for old-fashioned ways to solve problems by rousing their people to armed confrontation.–Kenichi Ohmae, The End Of The Nation State, (New York: The Free Press 1995), p. 11.

Why of course the people don’t want war. … That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along –Head Nazi Hermann Goering

Mr. Bertie Felstead: “A German began singing All Through The Night, then more voices joined in and the British troops responded with Good King Wencelas… the next morning, all the soldiers were shouting to one another, “Hello Tommy, Hello Fritz” … The Germans started it, coming out of their trenches and walking over to us. Nobody decided for us – we just climbed over our parapet and went over to them, we thought nobody would shoot at us if we all mingled together… There wouldn’t have been a war if it had been left to the public. We didn’t want to fight but we thought we were defending England. England’s Oldest Man Remembers The 1915 Christmas Truce

People do not make wars; governments do. –U.S. President Ronald Reagan

President George W. Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials… made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. …an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that …led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses. –Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith, False Pretenses: Iraq THE WAR CARD Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War, www.publicintegrity.org

Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. …The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose–especially their lives. …the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace. Yours not to reason why; Yours but to do and die. That is their motto The Anti-war Speech That Earned Eugene Debs 10 Years in Prison, Socialist Party convention in Canton, Ohio, 16 June 1918

By contrast, where wars DON’T come from:

…we preferred hunting to a life of idleness on our reservations. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not allowed to hunt. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone. Soldiers came and destroyed our villages. Then Long Hair (Custer) came…They say we massacred him, but he would have done the same to us. Our first impulse was to escape but we were so hemmed in we had to fight. Crazy Horse/Tashunkewitko

The Aztec strategy of war was based on the capture of prisoners by individual warriors, not on working as a group to kill the enemy in battle. By the time the Aztecs came to recognize what warfare meant in European terms, it was too late. Aztec

New England’s first Indian war, the Pequot War of 1636-37, provides a case study of the intensified warfare Europeans brought to America. Allied with the Narragansetts, traditional enemies of the Pequots, the colonists attacked at dawn. … The slaughter shocked the Narragansetts, who had wanted merely to subjugate the Pequots, not exterminate them. The Narragansetts reproached the English for their style of warfare, crying, “It is naught, it is naught, because it is too furious, and slays too many men.” In turn, Capt. John Underhill scoffed, saying that the Narragansett style of fighting was “more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies.” Underhill’s analysis of the role of warfare in Narragansett society was correct, and might accurately be applied to other tribes as well. Through the centuries, whites frequently accused their Native allies of not fighting hard enough. -James W. Loewen, LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME, (New York, NY: Touchstone 1996), p. 118